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WWII pilot who crash landed plane in Bradenton: That's life

BRADENTON -- The flood of calls came soon after Balazs Martin Orban crash landed his plane Monday in a private Bradenton community.

Friends from as far as Ohio contacted the World War II veteran after reading about what happened on the Internet. Eager reporters sought him out.

The 92-year-old, known by many as Bill, landed his cream-colored Wag-a-Bond in an empty lot in Tidewater Preserve after experiencing engine failure. Bradenton police said Orban had been heading south from Airport Manatee in Palmetto.

"There's been people calling from all over," Orban said. "It's been kind of interesting, really."

As he sat in a low-swinging chair at his Bradenton home Wednesday, Orban said he wasn't worked up when it happened.

"When it went quiet, I tried to go over all the different gauges, the gas and everything else to see if something had moved," Orban said. "Everything seemed to be OK."

Orban by then had already flown over the Manatee River when he saw a sandy spot -- but junk was in the way.

He remembered seeing people working below him on a house being built. He said he couldn't go straight because street lights blocked him.

Orban went off to the side, came across a lake and turned around, he said.

"You know you're going down so you might as well just relax and look for somewhere to go," Orban said.

He chuckled.

"There's no use getting excited about it because you're going down," he added. "I tried several things to start it and it didn't want to respond."

Orban settled on land near the corner of Tidewater Preserve Boulevard and Bearing Court. He walked away uninjured.

No other injuries were reported, according to Bradenton police Capt. William Fowler, who was on the scene Monday with Orban and several Bradenton police officers.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an email to a Herald reporter Wednesday evening the incident is under investigation.

"Until we can check the engine, we're going to have a tough time finding out why it quit," Orban said.

Orban and a small group brought the plane back to Airport Manatee where Orban has stored it for years.

According to Bradenton Herald archives, the veteran flew B-24 bombers on missions over France and Germany during WWII. Orban said there's no comparison, though, between those planes and his experimental aircraft.

"I'm not happy about having to fix the airplane now, which is going to be not only costly, but timely," he said. "But that's life, you know."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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